The first week of July, Mike and I took eight Plymouth students – joined by ten students & leaders from Greeley First Congregational – to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. We partnered with the local Episcopal Mission, working hard for three hot days to help out around the Bishop Hare Center and a church in Parmelee.
There was plenty to learn from the Lakota people who graciously spent time with us. We heard the truth of the way our government continues to mistreat and neglect the indigenous people of the land we live on. Hospitals on the reservation are naval hospitals, a subtle oppressive reminder. Due to the General Crimes Act, native law enforcement often loses their jurisdiction to the FBI. We heard stories about General Custer, Sitting Bull, and Spotted Tail. A man named Nico played traditional drum songs, teaching us about native music and prayer. The students learned to make fry bread from Rich Brokenleg. And it was delicious.
We spent the first couple days cleaning up around our home base, the Bishop Hare Center. A house on the property had some pipes burst, so we moved out several years’ worth of furniture and belongings left behind by the intentional community that lived there. We did some yard work, reorganized a tool shed, and sorted old scrap wood. On the last day, we cleaned up the Church of the Holy Innocents in Parmelee after it had been broken into. A grocery store owner came by with a box full of popsicles to thank the students for their work.
The trip was full of hard work and good learning, but we also had tons of fun. We played some typical youth group games, pet lots of rez dogs, got some ice cream, played kickball, and spent time getting to connect with each other. More than anything, I love to see our students building relationships with each other and with students from other progressive churches. So, while the week was exhausting, I was totally in my element.
On a personal level, I was struck by two things. First, the Rosebud Episcopal Mission needs our help. I am excited to go again, and I am grateful for this partnership. Second, God is experienced across cultures and across history. God transcends all our human-made boundaries. As a seminary student, this is an idea I have encountered in my studies before. But on the reservation, with the Lakota people, I got to see it for myself. I will be carrying all of this with me for a long time, and I am so grateful that our Plymouth community gave us this opportunity. ]
Brooklyn is Plymouth's Director of Christian Formation for Children & Youth. Brooklyn has served in local church and student ministries for the past several years. A native of northern Colorado, Brooklyn has professional experience leading in worship, youth, and children’s programs. Read her full bio here.
Many of you have asked me, "How was the mission trip?” You might have gotten a response along the lines of “it was great!” or “our youth are amazing!” or “it was one of the best I’ve ever been on.” While all true, those answers fall short.
How do you summarize a week of spiritual growth, laughter, hope, challenges, systematic oppression, culture shock, hard work, little sleep, and intangible moments of grace? As much as I love to talk, I am at a loss for words to describe the transformational experience of spending a week at the Rosebud Episcopal Mission (REM).
Every single day we were stretched outside our comfort zones and lived by the REM motto Semper Gumby (always flexible). Each day we built stronger relationships with members of our group. We laughed and played and at night we tried to get some sleep despite the symphony of snoring. Most importantly, every day God was made known to us.
You will get to hear more of these stories from our youth at a Special Summer Forum August 11th at 11:15am. Until then, I’ll try to give you a better answer to “how was the mission trip” by using the same questions that our kids will be answering when they share their stories with you at the Forum.
What is something you did (work or fun) while on the Mission Trip?
Many of us worked at the wood barn helping to split freshly cut trees for the Fire Wood for the Elders program. Yes, FRESHLY CUT trees! Trees so fresh, when you tapped the splitter into them, water came out. Many elders have wood burning stoves to heat their homes but are not physically able to cut the wood they need for the long winter, they rely on their relatives for the wood. REM gives wood away to those who need it during the cold South Dakota winter. Walking down to the wood barn that first day, I felt that I was walking on holy ground. It is a sacred act to chop wood for strangers so they might have warmth and hope in the midst of a bleak winter. Our youth worked so hard and they did so from a place of love and faith. It was truly inspiring to watch.
What is one thing that you learned?
Every day we were at Rosebud, we had the opportunity to invite someone from the community to speak to us and teach us about the culture or life on the Rez. We learned about beading, the Lakota language, and games. We stumbled our way through traditional dances. Made fry bread and Indian Tacos and learned the history of the Reservations, food rations, and the oppression that the Lakota people live with every day. With all of that, what I learned was the capacity for compassion and understanding that our youth have for their neighbor. At times, their eagerness to learn, to listen, and to understand took my breath away. I am humbled to work with these teens and feel blessed to be their partner in ministry.
How did you see God?
For those of you who know me well, you know that I am NOT a morning person. I am known for being rather grumpy until that second cup of coffee kicks in. On one of these extra grumpy mornings, we headed up to the little chapel on top of the hill for Morning Watch. We already had a Semper Gumby moment of needing to be flexible and change plans for the day. I wasn’t exactly in the mood for the walk or the singing or really anything that wasn’t me going back to bed. Once we settled into the pews, Robbie Carlson the 1st Cong. Greeley youth leader, asked for song requests. We sang a few familiar tunes and ended with a youth ministry classic “Sanctuary.”
Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living,
sanctuary for you.
As we sang, I could feel the Holy Spirit descend upon us. It moved me to tears. As the song ended we sat together in the stillness--as though God was saying in the midst of the busy week "Be still, and know that I AM God."
What are you taking home with you? How has the Mission Trip impacted your life?
On the Rez, hope is tangible and it looks like chopped wood, split by strangers. Every group who comes to the Rosebud Episcopal Mission spends time splitting wood at the wood barn. Every group takes home a piece of wood that they split so that they can tell the story of Hope on the Rosebud Reservation. This is what I take home with me. I bring home the hope that people will know they are cared for because their homes will be warm this winter. I have brought home the hope of young people who are living out their faith and answering God’s call to love your neighbor as yourself. It is easy to lose hope when you are listening to the news, but I have seen hope. It is a piece of firewood, it is a van full of teenagers driving to a mission trip. Hope is the people of God living out their faith, helping a neighbor in need, loving God and one another. Hope is alive.
So, how was the mission trip? It was great. Our youth are amazing. This was one of the best mission trips I have ever been on.
Grace & Peace,